Christians in a World of Sexual Sin
From the earliest days of recorded history, distortions of human sexuality have been one of Satan’s chief instruments for distracting men and women from the truth and beauty of God and His good gift of sexual intimacy.
Readers of the Old Testament are familiar with references to the Canaanite gods. Old Testament scholar Lynn Pryor notes, “In Canaanite mythology, Baal was the god of fertility, and Asherah was the goddess of fertility.” The Canaanites believed that “Baal was responsible for abundant crops, fertile animals, and fertile women,” so they “engaged in immoral sex to cause the gods to do the same.”
While scholars debate the role of temple prostitution in the classical era, there is no dispute that in ancient Athens and Rome, prostitution, pederasty, and homosexuality were common. Perverse forms of sexual expression were normative in other societies in all parts of the world. For example, in pre-colonial China and Africa, ritualized sexual perversions were part and parcel of the cultures. And noted theologian Peter Jones has documented the close relationship between both ancient and modern paganism and homosexual rites and beliefs.
Sexual immorality dates from our earliest history, which is why Scripture is replete with warnings against it. The first book of the Bible records God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) for their depravity and Joseph’s flight from a sexually aggressive woman (Genesis 39). The seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” is an ironclad warning against sexual sin, one in which all categories of immorality are included. As theologian Phillip Ryken explains, this command reminds us that our Lord “is a God of purity and faithfulness. … It also tells us that He is a God of joy, because this command preserves sex for the fellowship of marriage” (“Written in Stone,” p.16).
From Jesus’s warning about lust in the heart (Matthew 5:28) to John’s caution that the sexually immoral will have no part in God’s kingdom (Revelation 22:15), the New Testament is filled with exhortations to avoid any kind of sexual relationship except for the beautiful union of one man and one woman in the covenant of marriage.
Tragically, sexual immorality is no stranger to the American church. Nearly 40% of evangelicals surveyed by Pew Research say homosexuality should be “accepted.” This term can, of course, have subjective meanings. Those who identify as homosexual should be accepted as persons bearing God’s image, shown the love of the Christ Who died for them, and treated with respect as well as called upon to turn from sexual behavior displeasing to God.
Sadly, this approach is, at best, inconsistently applied by professing Christ-followers. The Anglican Church worldwide has broken with its theological parent, the Church of England, over the issue of blessing same-sex unions. More than 2,400 Methodist churches in the U.S. have “disaffiliated” with the United Methodist Church due to the latter’s new stance on homosexuality. More broadly, there are now a number of organizations purporting to be evangelical and also affirming of same-sex relationships.
Homosexuality and transgenderism are not the only sexual aberrations infecting the believing church. While Family Research Council’s George Barna has found that serious Christians divorce less than nonbelievers or nominal Christians, that divorce is frequent among believers is indisputable. Pornography is a plague among believers and in the culture at large. Human trafficking is an international phenomenon.
In light of a world full of sexual distortions, what are faithful followers of Jesus to do?
First, we must model purity in our lives and marriages. Staying sexually pure until marriage and sexually faithful within it are testimonies of God’s grace to a culture enmeshed in sexual indulgence and brokenness. Demonstrating that fulfillment in God and, if married, in one’s spouse compels non-believers to consider that sexual intimacy within the parameters set by our Creator is beautiful and life-giving — and that sexual intimacy outside those limits will not provide the inner fulfillment it claims to provide.
Second, Christians should support public policies that foster a culture of sexual health. We can make the case that sexual promiscuity leads to sexually-transmitted diseases, that abortion destroys a developing person and wounds her mother, that limits on pornography are needed to protect our youth, and that “no fault” divorce laws are the cause of tremendous pain in countless families.
Third, in our homes and churches, we need to do a better job of explaining why God’s plan for human sexuality — abstinence outside of one-man, one-woman marriage and fidelity within it — is for our good. The quiet confidence that builds within the person who runs from sexual temptation and remains sexually pure fosters not pride but depth of character and closeness to the Lord. Faithfulness to the one to whom you have committed your life in marriage gives great peace and rest to the soul. Are not these things far better than transient pleasure or seeking “happiness” in a relationship grounded in selfish desire?
Jesus told us, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). He promises to those who believe in Him that “a river of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:37-39). If these promises are true, does it not make all the sense in the world that we would want to obey a Lord Who wants our best?
Rob Schwarzwalder, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.